30th December 2015
Today I am going to share with you a heart- breaking account
from a volunteer in Lesvos working on the shore in the hope it will illustrate
just how desperate the situation is. Boats are still coming in and children
Lesvos, Wednesday, 6 o’clock in the morning.
This is a photograph of a typical scene of refugees arriving in the shore of Greece from Turkey
It’s dark. Pitch black. Only the moon and the stars cast a small amount of light across the sea… Once every few seconds there is a split second of light coming from the beam of the lighthouse, besides that it is pitch black. Around me there is screaming, crying, yelling. Life jackets and eyes light up in the beam of the lighthouse as it swings past for another second.
I am drenched and I am one of them. I am one of the refugees, I’m with them, they are all around me and I’m swimming among them, about 20 meters away from the shore.
Only a few minutes ago I was still standing on the shore, dry, watching the boat coming in. I lit up a part of the beach where it would have been safe to land, but it was too late. The dinghy arrives by the lighthouse, the most dangerous place to land, and pops like a balloon after hitting an invisible rock that is buried a short distance from the shore.
Invisible yet deadly. I hear the explosion of the boat hitting the rock, can hear the air escape from the hole it has left, and all the lights of the mobile phones switch off at the same time after which utter panic sets in. Everyone is scattered in the water, wearing 6 layers of clothes because they had to wait in the cold for 3 days on the Turkish shores before they could board the boat. And now they are drowning. I climb down the rocks and can see 3 men have reached the shore already. One of them is screaming and crying at the same time. “BABY, BABY, BABY!” and he points into the sea which lights up once every few seconds. I jump in and start swimming.
I swim past the people who are hoping I’ve come for them. 20 meters seems endlessly long in this situation. I swim past them and hope they will make it. 3 meters ahead of me I see another volunteer wearing a head torch. Brendan Woodhouse shouts at me “Please! Take the baby!! I can’t swim anymore…” This hero gives mouth to mouth one last time before handing the baby over to me. As I’m treading the water Brendan puts the baby in my arms: she’s throwing up. I’m starting to feel my muscles tense up but I turn around and try to swim back. It is pitch black again, I’m carrying a baby in my arms and I’m trying to swim at the same time. She is only 2 months old, but wearing so many layers she weighs a ton. The weight is wearing me down and I’m struggling as people try to clamber onto me on my way back. In my left ear I can hear the screaming of the baby, her lungs filled with water (an indescribable sound), in my right ear I hear the sound of screaming people.
During another second of light I can see other children hanging onto the still inflated part of the boat, they are crying. 20 meters seems endless and to my despair the baby is starting to feel limp in my arms. It’s nothing more than a lifeless body, it’s head dropping backwards. I’m starting to rock her up and down as I’m swimming and she gains consciousness for a moment. Again the indescribable crying: ‘just keep puking on me, I don’t care, just keep crying damn it.’ Someone throws their arms around me, trying to use me as a buoy, I wriggle myself out of the embrace but I loose my balance and watch the baby go under. GOD DAMN IT! I’m still holding her though, I manage to get her head back up but she is limp again. There is no crying, there is no puking. I keep swimming until finally I can feel some rock beneath my feet. From here I can walk. Another 5 meters is where the wall starts, exhausted people are crouched over the rocks. The baby gains consciousness for another few seconds, the sound of an attempt to cry with water-filled lungs cuts straight through my soul. From these rocks it’s another 10-15 meters of climbing. There is Freeha – the doctor. I know she’ll be in safe hands now. Hero Nand installed ropes onto these rocks in order to help people make the climb more easily. With the baby on my left arm and the rope in my right I clamber upwards. She is with me again and I’m rocking her up and down gently as I tell her things I can no longer remember… Just keep crying, keep crying, keep crying…
Once I have reached the top I hand her over to Freeha. She takes over from there and I know it’s all okay. The baby is treated for an hour, and after a 20 minute drive in the jeep gets transferred into an ambulance. At 9 o’clock we get the message that she is in hospital and she is quite stable. Yesterday a message that she has reached Athens. She is alive.
We managed to get everybody onto the shore .It was the worst night of my life but at the same time I’ve never felt so happy.The past few days I’ve been trying to remember everything, but I can only remember the sounds and flashes of images.
Whilst I’m writing this story I realise why the images I remember are like photographs. The photographs are like the light of the lighthouse lighting up the chaos, the eyes, the people and the place once every few seconds. Those are the only things I can remember.
A slideshow I can never show anyone, sounds I can never play.
In the meanwhile it is Christmas and all my thoughts are with
the refugees and the volunteers who are on the island. A huge shout out
to Lighthouse – Refugee Relief on Lesvos for the nightshifts they run near the
Don’t worry friends I won’t be going into the water (I can’t swim very well !!) but I will be helping people get warm and dry and offering much needed human compassion.
Thank you so much for the donations so far they will help me do so much good. Any friends working in Healthcare/pharma please get in touch if you want to help as I would like to take supplies if possible and you could really support me with this.
Happy Bank Holiday all xx
. If you have been inspired to make a donation to help a family just like yours then please use the link below to my trusted charity partner Donate 4 Refugees I can absolutely guarantee that they get the money to exactly where it is needed the most.